Copper Wire Theft Hurts Local Growers

Thieves stealing copper from water wells are hurting crops

POSTED: 05:18 AM PDT Apr 10, 2012    UPDATED: 06:22 AM PDT Apr 10, 2012 
THERMAL, Calif. -

The price of copper is back up to $3-dollars a pound and copper wire theft in the east valley is hurting local growers.

For more than 30 years, when a water well or pump in the east valley needed repair, Jesse McKeever fixed it. He's a busy man these days. Local farmers call him once or twice a week ,to fix the damage caused by copper wire thieves. McKeever says, "Farmers go out to start their pumps to irrigate and they don't come on and then they call us for a basic service call and we find out the wire is missing."

Since the 1950's, one motor provided water to a 300-acre lemon grove, with no problems. Now, the $9,000.00 piece of equipment is beyond repair. The thief probably made a hundred dollars for the wire. In the meantime, local farmers like Peter Nelson, the manager of Paramount Citrus Company pay the price. Nelson says, "We've had 6 thefts in the last 6 weeks and it's added up to over $50,000.00 dollars, in damage."

McKeever says, "It's just a domino effect. It destroys everyone. It's not worth the money for is to do it. It's a terrible job to have to redo it all. Some we've done three or four times. We arm them and they cut through them. It's like a game to these people."

Mckeever says the thieves take the wire to recycling centers, like Apple Recycling, on Highway 86. He tells us, "We were shown photos of it and I told Peter that's our wire and we just put it on last week."

Nelson says "This kind of gauge wire seen at Apple Market was the kind of wire no homeowner would have, particular to 480 volts."

We stopped by the center and were told to contact their manager, David Sanchez. We called Sanchez, but by air time, he didn't return our call.

Nelson says, "At one point there was a cooling off period before they were to receive the money for turned-in copper, but I think that's gone by the wayside and now they get cash directly."

Nelson says he's doing what he can to catch those responsible. He says, "I personally tracked the bicycle and footprints back to an abandoned building. I informed the Riverside County Sheriff's Department and they were very slow in responding."

The sheriff's department tells us they are monitoring recyclers, through a local database called Leads On Line and that they will follow-up with Nelson. Nelson says, "It's really costing myself and other growers a great amount of money."